Friday, January 30, 2015

No snow is news, dangit

TOMORROW MARKS THE four-year anniversary of the massive blizzard of 2011. I remember Lucy trying to walk into the backyard and disappearing, and I remember pulling Tommy VanNess around the downtown streets. He was on skis. We were in a Jeep. It did make for some good video, and it was all about the video back then.

We haven't had a winter in Quincy and I'm really disappointed in the lack of media coverage. Why are there no breathless TV guys out there saying it's nice and there's no snow and it's a shame the city paid for all the salt and it's not being used?

It's supposed to snow this weekend. Just how much we get remains to be seen. I will monitor the coverage make sure I know everything there is to know about snow and how it effects us. Or is that affects? I can never remember. Either way I will stock up on milk and bread immediately.

Actually, bad weather is news and I understand why it gets played up. I wouldn't mind a little snow - Angus seems to like it and there's nothing more surreal or gorgeous than walking through Woodland after a blanket of the white stuff covers the ground.

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Jamming one last time

I JUST BID farewell to one of my favorite students, who is leaving town for another job.

He came in about a year ago and bought a Jasmine acoustic. "I'm probably too old to learn," he said. He's in his late 30s. I told him he was wrong.

I was right.

He took lessons very seriously and made sure to play as much as his demanding job permitted. There were some frustrating days and lessons along the way, but he slowly improved and discovered how things made sense.

Today was his last lesson. He was here with his brother, a bass player, so we went into the back and jammed.

He held his own. Sometimes it was just simple strumming. Other times he picked a few strings. I threw a couple of new songs at him and he gamely played along.

I looked at my watch, and we'd made 75 minutes disappear. So much for the half hour lesson! It's amazing how fast it goes when you are into it and having a good time.

He left happy. I really hope he sticks with it during his new adventures. Playing guitar is therapy and good for the soul, and it can really help him.

You are never, NEVER, too old to learn. Your fingers aren't too big or too small. It's all about motivation - I'll help you, but it's all about putting the time in and the desire to get better.

Best of luck to my now former student. I hope playing music has made a difference and he maintains his love affair with the guitar for the rest of his life.

It feels good to help people learn!

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Grapefruit and adulthood

EMILY PUT A post on her Facebook page this morning, and it scared the bleep out of me.

Today I ate a plain, unsweetened grapefruit for breakfast and enjoyed it. Does this mean I'm turning into an adult?

No, Emily. It does not mean you are growing up. You are only 5 years old! What are you talking about? You have your whole life in front of you to eat whole foods, grass-fed beef and gluten-free pasta.

What's that? You aren't 5? What happened, did I blink?

This is much better for you than grapefruit.
Wow. You are actually, what, 23? Holy crap. How did that happen? The next thing you will tell me is that you are just a few months shy of getting your master's degree from a prestigious music college in New York. Silly girl! Dare to dream, I always say.

I want to play sock football in the front yard at halftime. I want you to fall asleep on my lap watching the Red Wings. I want to read "Goodnight Moon" again and again and again. For me, you big silly, but if you get something out of it, fine.

I'm beginning to get depressed. Maybe I'll listen to Nirvana or force myself to watch American Idol so I get pissed off and forget about my troubles.

Now, about this grapefruit. I appreciate you sucking it up and telling everybody it was good. I'm drinking cranberry juice, and Sheryl even made me get the real juice stuff, not the cocktail version, since it has less sugar and carbs.

We are finally coming to see you in a couple of weeks and we can talk about it. Make sure you have some Cap'n Crunch or Saturated Fat Frozen Pizza on hand, and we'll get through it.

And never grow up. That's an order.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Just another morning at Fifth and Maine

I'M NOT SURE why I am surprised when something strange happens at Second String Music. It is, after all, Fifth and Maine.

Sheryl is out and about this morning so I'm dealing with the, uh, interesting people. I love it. And You Can't Make It Up.

I just convinced a 63-year-old woman it's not too late to take sax lessons. I hooked her up with Vancil Performing Arts. "But I'm scared," she said. Don't be, I said. It's all about how badly you want to learn, and it's never too late.

I think she's feeling better about it.

If this was in my size, I might have been interested.
The mailman just came in and wondered if we'd take a couple of envelopes for the "Washington Park Bandstand, 501 Maine." Two of them were junkers and got recycled right away. Another one looked fairly official and the mailman is taking it to the Quincy Park District. You know, I'm sure some of our Outside People would have accepted it.

And lastly, a young man just came in and told a sorry tale of woe about his daughter being in an accident, and he is desperate to go see her but doesn't have any money, and he is trying to sell several prom dresses. They were neatly folded in a baby stroller, and he took one out. "I've been everywhere. Do you know of anybody who could use them?" he said.

Then he asked if we were hiring. And if we gave lessons. He whipped out a cell phone and dashed off a few texts. Then he asked if he could get a ride across the river, because there are some good pawn shops over there, you know.

I feel bad for the young man. He seemed determined, and at least he was polite. I almost sent him over to the Washington Park Bandstand to see if they could use prom dresses.

Maybe I'm getting used to all the fun stuff that goes on down here.

YCMIU at Fifth and Maine. Ever.

Monday, January 26, 2015

I'll take no pain, thanks

I KEEP SEEING links and reading Facebook posts about people killing themselves to feel better. They are contorting their bodies into impossible shapes, doing upside down pushups and running marathons.

Look. If you are into this sort of thing, working out and pushing yourself, good for you. Just remember it's not for everybody, and everything is relative.

I walk a couple of miles every day. This is low impact exercise and it's good for my brain. I don't need some doctor with seven degrees and teaching a class a week to tell me it's good. It just is.

The cold winter weather makes it hard for Sheryl to get out and walk. Yesterday she finally walked a mile with Tucker, and she felt great after she got home.

See? No pain, just a little effort, and a lot of gain.

I'm thinking about getting selling the scooter and getting a bike. Pushing pedals is better for you and good for the soul. I'll wear my helmet, of course.

So. Push on, exercisers. If it works for you, it works for me. We can talk about when I get home from my walk.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Bring back Sign Guy

I MISS OUR friend, Sign Guy. Last year he marched around Washington Park protesting police in schools, war and dogs pooping in the park. He has yet to make an appearance this month. C'mon, Sign Guy! We demand to be entertained.

He could have a field day this morning. The Quincy Park District is taking down the Christmas lights in the park. Already? Christmas has only been over for a month. Sign Guy needs a sign that says, "Leave Up The Lights" and "Christmas Is Forever" and "Why Aren't Easter Eggs In The Park Yet?"

People leave food for the squirrels in the park. When I walk Angus, he eats the food. And I mean disgusting day-old donuts, peanuts and corn cobs. Sign Guy needs a sign - "Do Not Feed The Music Store Owner Or His Dog."

The other day a huge park tree was sawed down. There is sawdust everywhere. Aha! "No More Dust In My Grass." A perfect sign!

I think Sign Guy should protest anybody playing songs by Canadians, like when local radio guy Beau Becraft pulls out "Run To You" by Bryan Adams. "Run Away From Hosers" would be a good sign. Then I'd get mad, show him my Canadian citizenship card, and challenge him to a curling match. It would be epic.

Somebody had a great idea for the vacant lot at Fourth and Maine - a Wiffle ball field. I will call up my buddy Gary McElfresh and we can organize a league, and knock out windows of surrounding buildings with prodigious plastic bat blasts. And Sign Guy can make daily trips across the street and carry signs like "Save Our Windows, Ban The Bats" and "Hart Throws Like A Girl" and other witty observations.

We could use Sign Guy for daily reminders. "Frank Haxel - Make A Cardboard Run For Second String Music" would be a good sign. It's long so he might have to carry two signs, or get his helpers to help.

Get with the program, Sign Guy! We demand a return. Then we will gather and march ourselves with signs in the park that say "No More Washington Park Protests." And we will have Wiffle ball practice.

March on, Sign Guy. March on.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Solo shows and songs

THE CHEESEBURGERS ARE on hiatus right now. We are regrouping and hope to be back up and rocking by spring.

It's just me and my cheese head Friday night.
In the meantime, I've picked up a few solo and two-man shows, and it's a nice change of pace. I'm playing Friday night at One Restaurant, and Feb. 6 I am playing with fellow Pepper Sprayer Tim Smith at The Blind Pig. Pepper Spray is also booking another gig for later in February.

The band thing is a lot of fun but it's a lot more effort. I won't say work - it's never work when you are playing - but there are a lot of things going on with the band and you have to stay on your toes a lot more.

The solo thing is a bit more laid back and you can try experimenting with different things, and it's a little easier to talk to the audience and engage people.

If I go to a bar and I see a guy or gal with a guitar, I appreciate original music. I'm going to play a few songs of my own Friday and there is no better feeling than seeing originals go over.

I am learning some new songs, too, and it's good for a performer to try different stuff and jump off the cliff. I've actually been practicing at night - the dogs joined in last night and were right on key, frighteningly enough. I've heard people say my songs are for the dogs anyway, so it's all good.

So if you are out and about Friday night, stop on by at One and hang out for a while. It's background music, if nothing else, and I'm really looking forward to it.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

What would you like to see downtown?

WE ARE TOSSING around ideas at Fifth and Maine for new businesses in downtown Quincy.

Ideas include book store, vinyl record store, cigar shop, cell phone kiosk, coffee bar (open past 2 p.m.), gift shop, gourmet popcorn store, head shop, salon, jewelry store, and microbrewery.

You have any ideas? Or, more to the point, dreams?

I mean, it would be foolish to quit your full-time job with benefits and just jump out of the plane to work at your own business. Right?

Don't hesitate to let us know what you think you'd like to see. Track us down at Second String Music or on Facebook.

And, at the very least, it's always fun to dream.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Learning, work and playing

WHY IS IT that I have no trouble learning a tricky progression for a Green Day song, but I have no idea how to stack the dishwasher?

Why is it I can figure out When The Stars Go Blue (by the Coors, not the horrendous country cover), yet it took me over an hour how to unravel a bale of straw for my muddy backyard?

I have no idea how to change the oil in my car or fix a leaky kitchen roof or figure out how to replace the bladder in my fancy toilet. But give me a few days to figure out Four Non Blondes and Melissa Ethridge songs, and I'm good.


Because I'm a musician, a dude that plays guitar. And I don't look at guitar as work. I'm allergic to work. I'm just playing, goofing around. That's the instruction I give to all my students - you are hereby ordered to goof around on your guitar.

Maybe we are wired differently, or lazy, or just have different interests and passions.

I will probably continue to load the dishwasher backwards. That is a lot of work!

Learn a Civil Wars song?

Let's go!

Monday, January 19, 2015

Can't fix your internet problem

I HAD A great experience yesterday selling a nice guitar to a musician from Iowa. He'd been in Second String Music before trying out some of our Takamine and Blueridge guitars. He's a farmer and it's hard for him to drive the hour or so to Quincy. So he asked if he could come down on a Sunday afternoon.

Sundays are the only day we take off. But it's OK. It's all about making the customer is happy. So we met and he took some time to play more guitars, and he ended up buying a beautiful Takamine Pro Series guitar. Everybody went home happy.

While he was in the store, there was a knock on the door. It was a guy who'd also been in before and was driving by. He'd been interested in a nicer guitar, too. But he wasn't buying anything Sunday.

"Well, I liked your guitars but I found one cheaper online and I bought it off the internet," he said.


"Now there's a crack in the body and I was wondering if you do repairs."

Wow. Wow. Triple wow. Or, in the words of the other young man who was strumming a guitar in the store, "That took a lot of stones."

There's more to the story but I'll stop here. It's not the first time I've heard a sorry story from a customer that bought their guitar online - I would never buy an acoustic guitar online, ever. If you are going to pay $400 to $3,000 (or more) on a nice solid-wood guitar, don't you want to see and play it first? We liken this to buying a car. No one buys a car without test driving it first or having a trusted friend test drive it, too. Maybe three or four test drives.

No Worries, Mon
You've saved a few bucks. Congrats.

What I'm taking away from yesterday is that going the extra mile to help a musician is worth it. We take pride in making sure we have great, playable and beautiful-sounding guitars. Your local small business thanks you and your local economy benefits greatly.

If you buy your instrument on the internet, we don't mind helping you out, but when you buy direct from us you have our personal guarantee that anything that goes wrong with it will be taken care of by us or the manufacturer directly.

No extra hoops or worries.

Friday, January 16, 2015

A morning in the music store

WE JUST HAD a very nice young man come in with a Washburn classical acoustic guitar. He asked if we could lower the action on his strings.

We managed to talk him out of it, because it was more about the style of the guitar and the interesting neck. Turned out after he played a few of our classical guitars, it was a feel issue. Now he's happy and relieved he doesn't have to pay for something he doesn't need.

Then we had a gal come in with an old Harmony acoustic, which Sheryl will restring and bring back to life. Then former WGEM weather guy Rich Cain came by and we had a great talk about life after being in the media spotlight, among other things.

Now I'm sitting with my coffee and thinking, "Life is good." It's never bad to remind yourself just how good you have it, and I have it pretty darn good, indeed.

And .... happy Friday! See? It's just getting better and better.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Ode To Guitar Joy

I HAVE A guitar student who is 9 and full of energy. She likes bursting out into song and learning. We have a blast during lessons and she even makes listening to Frozen and Taylor Swift bearable.

Well. Almost bearable.

Yesterday she came in beaming and said she'd learned how to play Beethoven on her violin in school. The song is "Ode To Joy" and she proudly proclaimed it started in F sharp.

"It's not the same on guitar, right?" she said. "We should learn it."

So we did, and we tabbed it out in my own numbering system. "That's a lot different than reading the notes," she said. "But it makes sense."

Now she is playing Beethoven on the guitar and it's a beautiful noise. I suspect it will morph into more of a jam and strumming thing before it's all over, but you never know with this adventurous 9 year old.

I have a lot of respect for people who read music. I have even more respect for people who can read music and be creative. The two don't always go hand-in-hand - I've had guitar students who are used to looking at the music on a piece of paper and going from there, and they struggle with improvising and learning by ear. Of course, I look at a page of notes and then close the book, but I can hear something and try to learn it.

The more I do this, the more I realize knowing the 12 chromatic notes and where they are on the guitar is crucially important to getting better. I have a million miles to go, but I'm starting to figure it out.

And now I can play a Beethoven song. Ode to the Joy of learning, indeed!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

I'm never texting again

SO I'M PLAYING at a local establishment a few weeks ago and two young people are with their parents. They have their phones out and are staring intently at their screens. They never lift their heads - ever. They stab at the letters and frown intently as the phones beep and burp and light up. Then one of them laughs. Ahhhh ... communication. From what I remember, it was a pretty good show, or so I read by text the next day.

Sheryl warned me about getting sucked in by my iPhone. I've tried to be good, but sometimes I fiddle with it and get lost. Never in the car, mind you, but lost is lost.

I'm at a restaurant down the street picking up breakfast. A young man, maybe 20, is sitting with his mother. She is trying to talk to him. He has his phone out. His eyes never leave the screen and he sends out approximately 3.75 million messages in 10 minutes. His mother gives up talking to him.

I'm at Fifth and Maine, crossing the street. A young gal is in a car right in front of me. The light turns green. The car doesn't move. She is staring at her phone, ignoring the guy behind her honking his horn. She completes the all-important task of texting somebody - "Hey Im at 5th Maine hlding up traffic LOL." Then she zooms away as the light turns yellow.

Last night, a woman parks her car on State Street by 10th, not far from our house. She lives across the street. She gets out and gets hit by a car, and now she's in critical condition at the hospital. Police say she was talking on her cell phone when she tried to cross the street. She got a ticket for illegal pedestrian use of a roadway.

Don't bother to call me. I've thrown my phone away.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Morning chorus, puppy style

PEOPLE HAVE ROUTINES when they wake up and get ready for the day. Coffee, cereal, brushing teeth and taking showers - routine stuff.

We have a puppy that has a morning routine, too. It's loud and better than an alarm clock. Usually it's right as we wake up, too, which is good for his health and welfare.

That's right - Angus The Young likes to howl. He grabs a squeaky ball and goes to town, then joins in with a high-pitched moan. Tucker joins in quickly and even Bella, our big dumb lab mix, has added to the chorus.

It's not like we've had to teach Angus how to howl. He just does it. The chorus usually lasts about 30 seconds. Then the dogs look at each other and say, "And our owner thinks he knows how to sing." There's a lot of nodding and winking going on during the dog songs, too.

There are worse things to deal with first thing in the morning. Sheryl even recorded Angus and Tucker and we used it on the Christmas song, "Be Nice To Your Pets At Christmas." Angus is wondering when he gets residuals from the massive CD sales last month. He'll have to settle for doggie treats, I guess.

Woof. It's a dog's world around here, and we just live and sing in it.  (Enjoy their singing here!)

Monday, January 12, 2015

Watch cats and overflowing toilets

It was about five minutes to 6 last Friday night, and we were getting ready to close the store. Fast Eddie came up to Sheryl and wouldn't let her be - he meowed and rubbed up against her and generally made a pest of himself.

Eddie was obviously trying to tell us something. When Sheryl went to the back to feed the cat and turn down the thermostat, she heard a strange noise coming from the former Dancer's Dream location, in the far east corner of our Fifth and Maine building.

She opened the door, and behold, a ton of water was pouring through the ceiling. Turns out we had a malfunctioning toilet in the second-floor bathroom, and the bowl was overflowing.

Sorry I called you a pest, Fast Eddie. You really were trying to tell us something.

We got the water turned off and had a plumber check it out Saturday morning. Now we need a new tank bladder because it burst - not frozen pipes but blocked trap and busted bladder. We had to get the expensive toilet! But it could have been worse - had Eddie not bothered us, or had the toilet overflowed 10 minutes later, it could have spent all night with the water running and flooding our first floor.

So. The moral of the story? Always listen to your cat. And check the toilet frequently, even if it's on the second floor.

Thanks, Fast Eddie.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Traveling to New York

WE JUST MADE plans to visit Emily in Rochester, N.Y., where she is getting her master's degree from Eastman School of Music. We haven't been out there yet so we are super excited.

We will also make a trip to Toronto, weather and the good lord willing, to visit family and bop around the city. It will be a very short trip and we'll pack as much stuff in as possible.

I'm dreaming of the day we can take a longer vacation and be more leisurely about things. Owning a music store and playing music puts a crimp on getting away for more than a few days. But I'm not complaining.

We have travel bucket lists. Sheryl wants to take a cruise through the German wine country. I'd love to spend a week skiing in Colorado, and another week at a Lake Michigan cottage in August. Make it two weeks, actually.

I'd love to buy a recreational vehicle and drive to college football stadiums on weekends. If we make it into the game, great. If not - party in the parking lot!

But we'll start with a shorter trip to see Emily. Smaller journey, big rewards and loads of fun. Pack up the bus!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

One arm and a ton of imagination

MY COUSIN, ROLAND Hart, lives in Michigan. He has a great wife and three beautiful children. The two boys are in high school and are extremely athletic, and his oldest, Josh, is looking at college sports scholarships next year.

Roland's wife, Amy, put a post on Facebook yesterday that made me laugh. Seems the middle child, Drew, broke his arm snowboarding a week ago. It's the second time he's broken the arm. But it doesn't slow him down - the day after, he was shoveling snow with his good arm.

Drew had surgery Tuesday to put pins in the broken arm. Most kids would have gone home and sat on the couch in front of their video games, but not Drew.

"Activity for the evening? Why not hollow out the snow hill we've been building the past couple of days and build a fire in it? If I only had 1/2 the energy of Drew! All done with one arm of course. Anyone else out there have a kid they beg to just chill and play video games or something for a while?"

A backyard snow fort in Zeeland, Michigan. Built with one arm, of course!
There is a time and place for everything, but when my guitar students come back from Christmas break, and I ask them what they got for Christmas, and they say, "video games," well, I'm in for a battle to get them to play.

You go, Drew. Take care of that arm and get better, because baseball season is around the corner and you are a good player. But more importantly, Uncle Rotney will be coming to Lake Michigan again this summer and demanding a Goony Race into the lake, and you better not use some weak excuse like "I broke my arm again" and wimp out.

As for Drew's parents? I know it's a challenge. But treasure these years, because you'll blink, and they'll be gone, and then it's your grandchildren who are breaking bones. And you will laugh and sigh at the memories.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Kanye, come get Pepper Sprayed

APPARENTLY THERE IS a big flap about a rapper who is doing a song with Paul McCartney. His name in Kane or Candy Korn or Kan Do or something. Apparently he makes country singers cry and thinks highly of himself. I wouldn't know, because I'm not on Twitter. My loss, I guess.

Fans of this rapper are applauding him and saying it's great he's giving an unknown artist like Paul McCartney some exposure. Ah, exposure. It's what we all live for, you know?

Sir Paul McCartney
I actually saw Kan Me play, if you can call it playing. He opened up for U2 in St. Louis a few years back. Except for his CD skipping and the bass blowing out the PA, it was fine, for the five minutes I endured. I give Bono and his boys a lot of credit for helping out a poor unknown rap dude.

So. Kanye. I am all about exposure, and since you are so gracious to help out a guy like Paul (I mean, it isn't like he has done anything musically at all, ever), well, our band Pepper Spray would like to reach out to you.

We have a couple of gigs coming up. We'd love to have you "play" with us. It would be great exposure, you know, and we are all about supporting unknown artists who are struggling to make a name for themselves.

Even if it's Kan dy.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Don't say bleep at Christmas

I'M NOT A big fan of people who swear a lot. I am not normally a potty mouth. Sheryl can cuss like a sailor and struggles to not bleep, but I try to keep my bleeps to a minimum. I don't put swear words in this blog unless it is part of a tale.

At Christmas, I let one slip. And I'll probably hear about it for years.

We did the family Christmas thing at Sheryl's father's house in Quincy. I like Jerry, and I think he likes me. Sheryl's relationship with her father is a little more complicated, but I don't mind hanging out with her family. To say Jerry is conservative is like saying Rush Limbaugh won't signal to turn left. And he's a church-going man who takes his faith seriously, and wishes his kids and their significant others would also.

Things were going fine until we started talking about baseball. Jerry is a life-long Cubs fan, which puts him at odds with some of the family and their Cardinals. We were talking about how much it costs for tickets and the overpaid players.

"Well," I said. "I don't give a shit about baseball, and blah blah blah blah."

My favorite team. Long gone.
I put "blah blah blah" because I'm not sure what I said after the cuss word. But I do remember there was a moment of shocked silence. A hush fell over the daughters, sons-in-law, nephews, nieces, boyfriends and step-mother. For a second, I thought it was about defaming the Cardinals (around here, that gets you in trouble, which is even more reason to hate them). Jerry looked at me sort of funny, but suddenly continued the conversation as if nothing unsavory had been uttered.

A few hours later, his grandson, Evan, was at our house and started laughing as he recounted the conversation.

"Wow. You said 'shit' in front of grandpa," he said. "I don't think we've ever said 'shit' in front of GRANDPA."

So I'm a strange kind of a hero with some of the family, and Jerry probably won't bring up baseball with me again. Or invite me back for Christmas. Although Sheryl thinks he would rather have me at Christmas than her.

I promise to clean up my act. I will not swear again in front of my father-in-law. My own family? Well, bleep them. They can deal with it.

Bleep. I bleeped again. Stop it! It's all your fault, baseball.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Sore calves and hearing aides

I ENJOYED OFFICIATING at the Little Devils girls basketball tournament Saturday afternoon at the CYO Gym. I don't do much reffing any more and it felt good to run up and down the floor, at least for the first two minutes.

Three of the four games were blowouts and not hard to follow. One game was really close and there was a lot of yelling and noise from the bleachers. The gym is basically a big tin can and the sound bounces around, so I didn't hear anything in particular and figured it was all good.

I got an email this morning from a father who apologized for yelling during the game. About all I can say is that reffing a fourth grade girls basketball game between two competitive teams is not easy - there's a lot going on and it's impossible to call everything. I just try to blow the whistle and make sure the game keeps moving.

As I suspected, two days later is the worst - my calves are on fire and my back is begging for more pain pills. Of course, yelling at the TV after the Lions were cheated out of a playoff win didn't help matters.

Anyway, I appreciated the email and the sentiment. It's all good. I'm hanging up the whistle for a while and waiting for Gus Macker to roll back around. And putting n
ew batteries in my hearing aid.